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Are you ready for the unknown?

Can you answer the following questions? Each of the cases described below contains a useful tip to help you find your way in an increasingly complex, uncertain world.

Based on

Uncharted, How to Map the Future Together
Margaret Hefferman, (Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2020). 

1. What is “plastic straw” syndrome? 

A) It’s version 2.0 of the parable of the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

B) It’s what happens to companies when, by dint of trying to adapt to any eventuality, they end up losing sight of the goals they were aiming for. 

C) It’s what happens to companies when their business model is suddenly called into question. 

Answer: C. Plastic straws seemed to have a rosy future ahead of them: They were practical, inexpensive and fun for children. Then a young boy in the US publicly worried about the environmental damage they caused when they’re thrown away, and the resources wasted in manufacturing them. People heard his message, resulting in a surge in awareness about the impact of straws, which in turn led to the European Union’s outright ban on single-use plastic straws. Straw manufacturers, who had been caught unprepared, were stunned. 

Dancing in the dark

2. What do the Arab Spring and the Fourth Industrial Revolution have in common? 

A) The two movements came into being in the same year. 

B) Both their names have something familiar about them. 

C) In both cases, the aim was to overthrow an alienating system. 

Answer: B. Both openly allude to earlier historical events (the Prague Spring and the Industrial Revolution). There’s only one snag: Observing these two movements in the light of events of the past means we see similarities where none exist, while masking the major points of difference. Invoking an earlier narrative has the effect of clouding people’s capacity for judgment.  

History Repeating 

3.What sport did Shell director Pierre Wack compare to scenario-planning exercises? 

A) Judo. 

B) Archery. 

C) 100-meter hurdles. 

Answer: A. Pierre Wack liked to compare the scenarios he wrote with his teams to a judo match, where the best attitude isn’t to try to floor your opponent at any price but to understand the external forces so you can turn them to your advantage.  


4. How does Warren Buffett describe himself?   

A) “I filled out my first tax return when I was 13, started my first business at 17 and earned my first million at 21. I think you could say I’m precocious.” 

B) “I’m a left-wing thinker locked in the body of a multibillionaire.” 

C) “I’m an artist first and foremost.” 

Answer: C. The finance mogul likes to define himself as an artist. Why? Far from being satisfied with gaining perfect mastery over his discipline, Buffett broke free of the established rules and standards to find his own voice. By refusing to follow in the footsteps of others, he gave himself the opportunity to be the first to discover the tiniest ripples across the world and nourish his creativity.  

J’aurais voulu être un artiste

5. What was the CERN project that was described as “vague but interesting” 32 years ago? 

A) The future World Wide Web. 

B) A demonstrative device intended to prove the relevance of the concept of supersymmetry. 

C) A new particle accelerator, which 13 years later would lead to the discovery of the famous Higgs boson. 

Answer: A. Tim Berners-Lee – a young IT executive at CERN at the time – put forward the idea of developing a system for researchers at the institution to use the Arpanet network (the ancestor of the internet) for communication with one another. Encouraged by the “vague but interesting” response from management, Berners-Lee developed the project that created the three main building blocks of the web: URL addresses, the HTTP protocol and the HTML language. The invention of the web is typical of “cathedral” projects, long-term endeavors without a predetermined end date or real road map, whose scope goes far beyond the bounds envisaged by its initiators. The CERN where Berners-Lee worked is also in itself a huge cathedral project. 

Il est venu le temps des cathedrals 

6. Why are London taxis the only ones in Europe not to have suffered from the arrival of Uber? 

A) Because even the finest sedan can’t compete with the charm of a traditional black cab. 

B) Because the UK authorities taxed Uber so highly that the company preferred to keep a low profile. 

C) Because London taxi drivers could give lessons in navigation to the best GPS. 

Answer: C. To validate their licenses, London taxis have to learn the map of the city by heart in the most minute detail. In doing so, drivers develop an exceptional capacity for memorization and focus, which means that they can quickly identify a new route if there is an unforeseen problem. And much better than Uber drivers, who are at the mercy of their digital tools. 

You never know 

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Dominique Fidel
Published by Dominique Fidel
After completing her studies in civilizations and working 10 years in corporate communications, Dominique now divides her time between popularizing science, institutional communications, literary reviews, and Business Digest.